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  • Amonute, 1617, and: De-he-wä-mis (1743–1833)
  • Karenne Wood (bio)

Amonute, 1617

Tsenacomoco. A place like no other, heart of all hearts, our center, that lime-green breast of a world. We were of it. Belonged to its waters, which spread west like fingers from Chesapioke, where saucer-sized oysters stacked themselves on underwater shelves and shad teemed upriver when trees budded, such as grew a hundred feet or higher: cypress, sycamore, chestnut, crowding out the understory. Where, at forest’s edge, white dogwood blossoms shimmered like stars. Where our women dug tuckahoe tubers, pounded out bread, and planted their corn, beans and pumpkins with songs, according to the moon. My father, Powhatan, our mamanatowick, holiest of chiefs, who in his dreams entered all realms seeking our futures and who spoke with our priests the secret holy words, called me Pokahuntas, little Mischief. A nickname. He knew my name, Amonute. Wind from the east, with what portent, the day runners brought word of more ships with sails, pale strangers with hair on their faces like dogs? Watch them, Powhatan said. We heard tales: they tried to catch fish with flat pans, built a wall around their huts. Could not feed themselves. Opechancanough, our war chief, captured and brought us their leader. A squatty short man, face sprouting red fur. No one had seen such a man or heard his talk. My father exchanged boys with him. The white boy [End Page 83] would stay in our town. He and I traded words. I learned “house,” yehakin. “Bread,” ponap. “Garment,” matchcore. “Arrows,” attonce. Aroughcun, I taught him, that one with the black-striped tail. Mockasin, supple buckskin, scent of woodsmoke. I wanted more words. Went to their fort, to the redheaded man. Chawnsmit, his name. He became my father’s son, called him Father, said what was his would be ours. I learned to speak to him. Ka ka torawincs yowo? “What do you call this?” And my father’s question: Casacunnakack, peya quagh acquintan vttasantasough? “In how many days will there come more English ships?” Then he left. Chawnsmit, our son. We were told he was wounded. He had died, they said. That Anglo tongue, my undoing. Years passed. Oftentimes, we were fighting the strangers. My husband Kocoum disappeared, and his Patawomeck people sold me to Captain Argall for a copper kettle. I was to be ransomed. Was sent to Henricus where the Reverend Whitaker, a dour man hunched like a buzzard, instructed me in their words, their religion, and where John Rolfe came to love me. Our people were at war. Would I marry him, he asked. Would my father make peace? We said yes. I gave up my sacred name, Matoaka, she who kindles, and I became Rebecca, a biblical woman who left homeland for Canaan, married Abraham’s Isaac, brought peace between enemies, bore twins: the red Esau, who emerged first; and Jacob, who through his mother’s treachery inherited the land. A few years of calm. We planted tobacco. I bore a son, Thomas. Then another question: would I cross the sea, go to London, be their emissary? [End Page 84] Yes, my father said. Go. We need to know more. I saw Plymouth, then London. Felt its crowds press upon me, knew its stench. I saw that Chawnsmit. He still lived. No son of ours. Heard their lies in his words. Knew then that more of them would always come to us. At last, when spring came and the winds turned, our ship left for home. I felt weak. I stumbled. We must stop, my husband said. She is too ill to go on. He cupped the bones of my face. Wiped my brow when delirium swallowed me. Spoke gently. Words. Black words swirling like London’s murmurations of starlings that clouded the sky at dusk. At home, my sisters pat out corn cakes and laugh. The elder calls to a child who splashes at river’s edge, where the sand wears each stone smooth. Crenepo, woman. Marowanchesso, boy. Sukahanna, water. On the shore, men scrape dugouts with oyster shells. Acquintan, canoe. Words. As though nothing had changed. It is but the fevered...


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